Combustible Lemons by K.L. Stevens

“When life gives you lemons… make lemonade.”


It’s supposed to be inspirational! Uplifting! Make something sweet out of something sour, right?


To me, it’s actually pretty depressing.

The idea, of course, is that life is some sort of Ultimate Evil Force (yes, capital letters required) that hands us sour packages where we have the choice to turn them into something sweet. That’s it. We can’t change what life gives us. We can let the lemons bury us, we can find sugar and work furiously to make lemonade, or we can just stop living, because then we won’t be getting any more lemons.


To me, the sentiment of “making lemonade” stinks worse than my ex’s hockey bag. And there is no stench known to man that is worse than a hockey bag after a few weeks of use.

Instead, I’m rather fond of Cave Johnson’s theory on life’s lemons:


“When life gives you lemons, don’t make lemonade. Make life take the lemons back! Get mad! Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons! I’m gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!” (copyright to Valve’s Portal 2, edited for sensitive content)

So, Cave Johnson’s craziness aside, the idea behind his theory is that nothing (not even the cancer that was killing him) is worth “taking” from life.

Life isn’t some mysterious force that shoves lemons down our throats.

Life is the thing we do – live.


So, I can hear the questions now. “But Kristen, what do I do with these lemons? Should I be burning down houses?” Aaaaaaand let me stop you there. These negative events that life “gives” us aren’t the end-all-be-all. These “lemons” can be used in a positive way, no sweetener needed!


We are writers, aren’t we?


The answer is yes. And as writers, we need to tap into emotion to make our stories the strongest they can be. By turning our negative events into fuel, we’ll be able to drop combustible lemons filled with emotions on our unsuspecting readers.

It’s the ultimate “write what you know”!

Did you fall on the ice last winter and break your foot? Now you know the levels of pain and can accurately describe it and the (lengthy) recovery process. Lost someone recently (say sorry)? You can mimic those levels of loss and anguish in a character. Recently loved and lost? FEELS, man, FEELS.

Don’t let life’s lemons bury you. Don’t try to make something sweet out of something sour.

Instead, turn the lemons into power that you use against your readers. It’ll make your writing all the sweeter to read.


K.L. Stevens

9 thoughts on “Combustible Lemons by K.L. Stevens

  1. Your remarks about life reminds me of the Buffy episode “Once More With Feeling” when Spike sings “Life’s not a song, life isn’t bliss, it’s living. You’ll get along, the thing that you feel can only heal by living.” 🙂

    1. Hi Lauralynn!

      That’s one of my favorite Buffy episodes, and Spike is one of my favorite characters. That line of song completely describes his whole outlook on life, which might be why I love him so much.

      That, and this one: “You’re not friends. You’ll never be friends. You’ll be in love till it kills you both. You’ll fight, and you’ll shag, and you’ll hate each other until it makes you quiver, but you’ll never be friends. Love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood — blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it”

        1. You too both are reminding me how much I want to rewatch Buffy now… 😀 (And oddly enough, I think I’d like to watch that episode with all the singing 😉 .)

          1. Hah! I re-watch “Once More With Feeling” and Angel’s “Smile Time” all the time. Just because. They make me laugh and make me love the characters… so yeah.

            Plus a puppet David Boreanaz is something I’d cuddle up to every night… rawr.

            1. LOL! I actually found “Smile Time” a bit too freaky (I have a thing about puppets), but it was a cool plot.

              And yeah, Lauralynn…. There’s something pretty “freeing” about the Lord of The Dance’s antics. A lot got done in that episode… And in some ways, more good than I bet he intended.

    1. Hi Alberta! Glad you enjoyed the post! The inspiration for it came when I was talking to a writer friend of mine who was lamenting that he felt like he couldn’t describe loss very well (he’s one of those lucky people with both sets of grandparents still alive) and so I may or may not have threatened his cat >.>

      (Not that I’d ever *ever* harm a cat. But it was funny in context :3 )

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